NFL1000: Free-Agency Rankings for the 2017 4-3 OLB Market

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistFebruary 24, 2017

NFL1000: Free-Agency Rankings for the 2017 4-3 OLB Market

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    Welcome to Bleacher Report's NFL1000 free-agency preview, a series where we'll use the power of the 17-man NFL1000 scouting department to bring you in-depth analysis of every NFL free agent this offseason. In this installment, lead scout Doug Farrar and linebacker scout Derrik Klassen dive into the 4-3 outside linebacker class.  

    With the rise in nickel and dime defenses in the NFL over the last decade—teams play with five or more defensive backs on the field as a default these days—responsibilities for 4-3 outside linebackers have changed significantly.  

    No longer is the weak-side or strong-side linebacker able to stay in his lane with the middle linebacker covering up everything in the box. Now, "Wills" and "Sams" (they're often interchangeable in their roles in the modern NFL) must flow to the ball in true half-field run coverage. If they're unable to veer off to the curl-flat areas or drop back to cover the seam, they'll become expendable overnight.

    If the 'backer can also blitz, that's great. But in a four-man front with a fifth defensive back, he'd better be able to cover more of the field than ever before, or he'll find his snap counts declining precipitously.

    And if a team is short one of those players coming into the 2017 season, it may want to look to April's draft for answers. This free-agent class has some talent but not an abundance of do-it-all guys. Still, several valuable situational and rotational players are available.


    Previous Installments

    NFL1000 Free-Agent Quarterback Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Tight End Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Fullback Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Kicker/Punter Rankings
    FL1000 Free-Agent Left Tackle Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Offensive Guard Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Center Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Right Tackle Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Inside Linebacker Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent 3-4 Defensive End Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent 4-3 Defensive End Rankings
    NFL1000 Free Agent Defensive Tackle Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent 3-4 Outside Linebacker Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent 4-3 Outside Linebacker Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Running Back Rankings

16. Mark Herzlich

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Incomplete: Mark Herzlich did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading. 


    NFL1000 4-3 OLB scout Derrik Klassen

    Mark Herzlich had a grand total of 14 defensive snaps in 2016. Most of his playing time was on special teams. Trying to gauge his value based on last season is nearly impossible.

    The New York Giants needed Herzlich in 2015, though, as he filled the weak-side linebacker position in spurts. He succeeded in coverage, as a linebacker at that position should. He did not make outstanding plays or create turnovers, but he carried out his assignments well enough to not be a detriment to the players around him.

    As a run defender, however, Herzlich was problematic. He was not reactive enough, aggressive enough or athletic enough to make a positive impact. Opponents tended to block him at the second level and escort him away from the play. Herzlich was a fine tackler, but he rarely put himself in position to make meaningful tackles.

    Considering his low snap count in 2016 and uninspiring play in 2015, it's unlikely he will pull in a contract much better than the veteran minimum.


    Doug's Quick Take: Herzlich's recovery from bone cancer was amazing, and it's kind of a miracle he was able to play in the NFL at all. But time does roll along, and when a player who never ascended to starting status begins to lose what little snaps he gets, it's easy to tell the end of that story in a professional sense.


    Potential Suitors: New York Giants, Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles

15. Andrew Gachkar

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Incomplete: Andrew Gachkar did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading. 


    NFL1000 4-3 OLB scout Derrik Klassen

    Andrew Gachkar played sparingly for the Dallas Cowboys in 2016. It was rare for him to see the field unless someone ahead of him on the depth chart was battling an injury. 

    Gachkar is an uninspiring player. His athleticism is nothing of note and does not enable him to make any spectacular plays. As a result, he must feed off his instincts and his awareness, neither of which are overly positive traits for him. Gachkar is hit-or-miss in regard to how he reads plays, but the way he struggles to handle traffic at the second level often negates the ones he reads well in the running game.

    Third downs are not kryptonite for Gachkar, but he provides little value. He is not a worthwhile blitz piece, nor is he anything more than mediocre in coverage. It's best for him to head to the sideline on third downs.

    Gachkar can provide capable depth. In emergencies, he can hang around near plays and do a decent job of preventing catastrophes. Gachkar will be fine if a team nabs him for the veteran minimum (or close to it).


    Doug's Quick Take: A backup player with little upside, Gachkar will be on the outside of free agency looking in unless some team really needs depth and requires bodies on special teams.


    Potential Suitors: Dallas Cowboys, Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins

14. Sean Weatherspoon

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Incomplete: Sean Weatherspoon did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading. 


    NFL1000 4-3 OLB scout Derrik Klassen

    Sean Weatherspoon saw the field early in the season, but an Achilles injury sidelined him for most of the year. The Atlanta Falcons defense did not desperately miss him in his absence, but Weatherspoon—who had three starts because of injuries to the corps—was the Falcons' best non-starting linebacker.

    He had flash plays in coverage and in the running game, even if he was as inconsistent as any other backup player. Weatherspoon's athleticism allowed him to make up for some of his mistakes. He could be a little sluggish to identify his assignment and make a move in the right direction, but once he got going, he was normally able to recover in time.

    Considering Weatherspoon missed most of the year, it's possible many teams will shy away from him. Assuming his recovery process went smoothly, though, he should a steal. Weatherspoon still has quality football ahead of him.


    Doug's Quick Take: Weatherspoon's injury assured that two rookies (weak-side linebacker De'Vondre Campbell and slot cornerback Brian Poole) would see the field a lot more than they would have otherwise. That leads to an unsure future for Weatherspoon, who's still an above-average player in pass coverage. He'll be attractive to teams running a lot of nickel fronts.


    Potential Suitors: Atlanta Falcons, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots

13. Jelani Jenkins

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 14.9/25
    Run Defense: 14.2/25
    Pass Rush: 7.6/15
    Tackling: 14.3/25
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 57/100
    2016 NFL1000 4-3 OLB Rank: 46/46


    NFL1000 4-3 OLB scout Derrik Klassen

    Someone has to end the season at the bottom of the pile, and Jelani Jenkins was 2016's worst 4-3 outside linebacker. He was not always a liability for the Miami Dolphins, though. Earlier in his career, he strung together a couple of respectable seasons. This past campaign, however, Jenkins was overwhelmed. Part of his struggles were likely rooted in nagging injuries.

    The difference was undeniable. Jenkins looked scared in the running game and showed more hesitancy than ever before. He appeared to show the same symptoms Anthony Barr of the Minnesota Vikings did (many believed he was playing through injury). Seeing abnormal hesitancy and weakness at the point of attack from such a young player makes one strongly question how healthy Jenkins was.

    Regardless, the 24-year-old has never been a game-changer. After he posted such a poor season, especially as a run defender, it would be foolish to bring him in as a starting linebacker. His best role was likely as a fourth linebacker anyway, even prior to 2016. If a team could nab him as a cheap fourth linebacker, he may turn out to be a nice rebound project.  


    Doug's Quick Take: Jenkins had a pretty nice season in 2014 as a blitzer and pass-coverage defender, but he's regressed in effectiveness and snap counts ever since. He projects as a backup at this point, and based on his 2016 tape, he may have to wait until training camp to get a serious offer.


    Potential Suitors: Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders

12. Donald Butler

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 14.5/25
    Run Defense: 14.4/25
    Pass Rush: 6.9/15
    Tackling: 15.2/25
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 57/100
    2016 NFL1000 4-3 OLB Rank: 45/46


    NFL1000 4-3 OLB scout Derrik Klassen

    Donald Butler was a disaster in 2016. After having spent all of his career with the Chargers prior to 2016, Butler tried to breathe life into his career with the Dolphins. He did not succeed. In fairness, none of the Dolphins linebackers looked good, and that may have played a role in Butler's on-field product.

    The only thing Butler could be somewhat counted on to do last year was secure tackles. Even then, he missed his fair share and was not any better than league average. Butler's run defense was an atrocity. He was out of place on seemingly every play. If he did not run himself out of the play initially, he was surely displaced by an offensive lineman at the point of contact. Nothing went his way in the run game.

    Butler wasn't any better on passing downs. He provided nothing as a pass-rusher and was a liability in coverage. He had no business being on the field for third downs. What's frustrating about Butler's overall poor play is that it's not for lack of ability. He's not an elite athlete, but he has more than enough movement skills to be able to keep up as an NFL linebacker, both as a run defender and on passing downs.

    Alas, Butler is not mentally in tune with the NFL. Plays process too late for him, and it's rare for him to recover. If a team wants to give him another shot, his athleticism warrants it, but Butler is not going to be a hot commodity.


    Doug's Quick Take: Butler was an athletic marvel when he came out of Washington, but reputable sources have questioned his effort. He's struggled with conditioning at times, and that tends to catch up with you. He was a good player his first two seasons in the NFL, but he's failed to live up to that in the next four. If the drumbeats around the league are that he's not giving it his all, you can imagine how his free-agency tours will go. Butler will have to answer those questions before he's given any offers.


    Potential Suitors: Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers

11. Paul Worrilow

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 14.5/25
    Run Defense: 14.3/25
    Pass Rush: 7/15
    Tackling: 15.5/25
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 57.3/100
    2016 NFL1000 4-3 OLB Rank: 43/46


    NFL1000 4-3 OLB scout Derrik Klassen

    Paul Worrilow is a clean-up tackler. From 2013-2015, he accumulated more than 350 total tackles for the Falcons. One would think someone with that level of production was a good player, but that's not the case here.

    Worrilow is the prime example of tackles often being a result of the runner taking the path of least resistance, meaning Worrilow was away from his assignment gap and had to recover late in the play. The Falcons phased him out of the lineup this season in favor of De'Vondre Campbell, who played much better as a rookie than Worrilow ever had.

    When Worrilow had to play as a rotational cog or in place of an injury, he struggled. He rarely got a good jump on his assignment, and his athleticism often left him in the dust on perimeter plays. Worrilow is slow to get going off the ball and can not change directions with fluidity. Couple that lack of athleticism with consistently delayed reactions and you end up with a linebacker who seldom renders himself useful.

    In coverage and as a pass-rusher, Worrilow provided close to nothing this year. His lack of athleticism hurt him in both areas, not to mention he could rarely identify his coverage assignment on time. His only somewhat valuable asset is that, while he makes tackles late, he does make them, and that can play a part in preventing explosive plays. As an emergency linebacker, Worrilow makes some sense, but he will be a desperation signing.


    Doug's Quick Take: Ten to 15 years ago, there was more of a place for the linebacker who wasn't athletically gifted but whose game intelligence kept him on the field. In the days of half-field coverage and nickel defenses as the default, though, that place is generally in the broadcast booth or on a coaching staff. Worrilow looked out of place in Atlanta's young, fast defense unless he was covering specific short routes or moving straight ahead to stop the run, and he did those things at a level that was league average or below for the most part.


    Potential Suitors: Atlanta Falcons, Oakland Raiders, New Orleans Saints

10. Spencer Paysinger

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 15.4/25
    Run Defense: 15.1/25
    Pass Rush: 7.4/15
    Tackling: 15.2/25
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 59.2/100
    2016 NFL1000 4-3 OLB Rank: 40/46


    NFL1000 4-3 OLB scout Derrik Klassen

    Spencer Paysinger was one of many Dolphins linebackers who struggled this season. Mental struggles plagued the entire unit, including Paysinger. Their flashes were impressive, but the Dolphins linebackers were more commonly caught out of position.

    Paysinger has ample athleticism for an outside linebacker, but his instincts are a mitigating factor. He tended to be beaten to his spot in the run game, which rarely went well for him considering he is not a tuned block-handler. Most of Paysinger's notable plays were a result of his keying onto something presnap and darting immediately toward the play, though even that was a rarity.

    In coverage, Paysinger rarely made eye-catching plays, and he did not consistently flow to his assignment. He relied on his athleticism to make up ground down the field and to the perimeter. Coverage was far from a strong suit, as was the case with most other traits required to succeed at outside linebacker. Paysinger's athleticism makes him a serviceable backup, but he should not be signed with the intention of being used liberally.


    Doug's Quick Take: Paysinger isn't a world-beater in any particular category, but he's good enough at everything to make himself a little money in this free-agent class. He'll stick with a team that needs raw athleticism in blitzes and short to intermediate pass coverage.


    Potential Suitors: Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles

9. Philip Wheeler

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 14.4/25
    Run Defense: 15.4/25
    Pass Rush: 7.6/15
    Tackling: 15.9/25
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 59.3/100
    2016 NFL1000 4-3 OLB Rank: 39/46


    NFL1000 4-3 OLB scout Derrik Klassen

    Philip Wheeler played the same role for the Falcons as Michael Morgan did for the Seahawks. Wheeler, however, was not nearly as reliable. Whereas Morgan was at least able to be a consistent run defender, Wheeler was a roller coaster in all phases of the game. He came through occasionally with a well-timed blitz or an uncharacteristic tackle for loss, but he also gave offenses a player to attack if they wanted big plays.

    Coverage was a struggle for Wheeler. When asked to float out to the flats or carry receivers up the field, he got lost, often resulting in a good chunk of yardage for the offense. He has the athletic ability to keep up in coverage, but his sense of his surroundings and knack for finding the ball are lacking. Wheeler has close to zero natural skills in coverage.

    As a run defender, he could have been worse. Still, he rarely made impact plays, and his tackling tended to be subpar. He too often got washed out by blockers, which is troublesome for a player who consistently lined up near the line of scrimmage and often had to directly take on blockers.

    On rare occasion, Wheeler would knife through the offensive line to make a disruptive play, but it does not feel right to allow his few accomplishments to outshine his shortcomings. Wheeler should be a cheap flyer signing who a team hopes can be serviceable enough to make his blitzes worthwhile.


    Doug's Quick Take: Wheeler might get a shot to spot start on a team with a true three-linebacker rotation, where he can ease to the middle. But in a 4-2-5 base set or with a team that plays a ton of dime defense, he's going to be signed as a backup.


    Potential Suitors: Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Chargers, Seattle Seahawks

8. Malcolm Smith

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 14.5/25
    Run Defense: 15.3/25
    Pass Rush: 7.2/15
    Tackling: 16.4/25
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 59.3/100
    2016 NFL1000 4-3 OLB Rank: 38/46


    NFL1000 4-3 OLB scout Derrik Klassen

    Malcolm Smith took a step back in 2016. His first year with the Raiders in 2015 went well. He was not a world-beater or true game-changer at linebacker, but he provided stability and consistency to the Raiders front seven. He made plays in the run game and did enough in coverage to be an overall positive impact.

    In 2016, however, everything went south. As a run defender, Smith reverted to being a mediocre player. He had moments of crashing the line of scrimmage with aggression and timeliness, but he was often arriving to plays later than he should have. He wasn't as consistent at containing run plays as he was a year ago.

    Smith imploded in coverage, too. He was one of many Raiders linebackers who could not cover. With nobody else on the roster being capable, Smith was forced into coverage often, which didn't turn out well. He was one of this season's worst pass defenders.

    Smith has a past that he can sell to possible suitors. He won the 2014 Super Bowl MVP and posted a decent season in 2015. For whatever reason, he was not that guy in 2016, but players have down years all the time in the NFL. Smith has shown enough over his career to warrant another team giving him a chance to have a role in its defense, even if just as a rotational player.


    Doug's Quick Take: Smith made his money in Oakland based on that Super Bowl performance and an undeniably great half-season before that. He's been an acceptable linebacker for the Raiders for the most part, but he has already scratched the top of his potential, and his NFL future is likely as a backup and third-down guy.


    Potential Suitors: Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots

7. Chad Greenway

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 15.9/25
    Run Defense: 17/25
    Pass Rush: 7.3/15
    Tackling: 17.4/25
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 63.6/100
    2016 NFL1000 4-3 OLB Rank: 19/46


    NFL1000 4-3 OLB scout Derrik Klassen

    The end is nigh for Chad Greenway. A worn veteran of the league, he will be 34 years old next season, which almost immediately rules out a deal longer than two years. In fact, there are already talks of Greenway's rumored retirement from the NFL, according to CBS Minnesota.

    Under the assumption that Greenway does return for at least one more year, teams should be expecting a functional weak-side linebacker who wins more with his brain than with his athleticism. He cannot move the way he once did, but his reads in the run game are proficient, and he does a good job of keeping plays in front of him. It's rare for Greenway to be the culprit of an egregious defensive play.

    His insight and aggression still enable him to make some impressive plays. On occasion, he will crash the box and make a sweet play to derail the offense. Of course, there are times where Greenway believes in himself too much and gets outrun, but his miscues can be lived with.

    As a third-down player, Greenway is best served as a blitzer or off the field. He is not a disaster in coverage, but he cannot keep up in the open field anymore. Minnesota tended to roll with Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr for its nickel packages, leaving Greenway off the field. His future team (if he leaves Minnesota) will likely have to take the same course of action.


    Doug's Quick Take: The end has been coming for Greenway for a while. He's looked slower every season for the last four years, and his relative lack of athleticism is now in more sharp relief as the Vikings continue to stock their current defense with young, aggressive playmakers. He's a smart player who has been able to overcome the erosion of his physical abilities to a degree, but the retirement rumors indicate he knows the end is around the corner.


    Potential Suitors: Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals

6. Justin Durant

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 14.7/25
    Run Defense: 15.6/25
    Pass Rush: 7.6/15
    Tackling: 15.7/25
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 59.4/100
    2016 NFL1000 4-3 OLB Rank: 37/46


    NFL1000 4-3 OLB scout Derrik Klassen

    Justin Durant was one of many Cowboys linebackers who played alongside Sean Lee this season. The Cowboys, who were often in nickel like the rest of the NFL, constantly rotated linebackers in and out. Lee remained on the field almost all the time, but is counterpart changed from week to week or drive to drive.

    Durant was impressive in flashes. As a run defender, he occasionally made plays near or behind the line of scrimmage. His athleticism allows him to flow effortlessly from sideline to sideline and through open gaps, though he was often too late to recognize plays. He is better off when he can get going early than when he has to read his keys.

    Despite his athleticism, Durant is a two-down linebacker. Teams should stay away from him if they are looking for a linebacker with functional coverage ability. Unlike his play in run defense, Durant does not have flashes as a coverage player.

    He cannot cover, especially in today's NFL where linebackers are asked to cover a myriad different athletes over the course of a game. In fairness, Durant is a functional blitzer, but a defense cannot blitz him on every passing down and expect to keep him out of coverage.

    Durant got better as the season went on. His poor start and overall inconsistency still resulted in a weak end-of-season grade, but the progress he showed in 2016 was encouraging. A team could be in for a nice surprise if he continues to make minor strides.


    Doug's Quick Take: When you're primarily known for your athleticism, and Father Time starts to make appointments for reality checks, this is what happens. Durant is a highly valuable backup-level player, but he's no longer the difference-maker he was half a decade ago, and his appeal to teams and subsequent offers will reflect that.


    Potential Suitors: Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns

5. Daryl Smith

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 15/25
    Run Defense: 15.8/25
    Pass Rush: 7.5/15
    Tackling: 15.7/25
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 60/100
    2016 NFL1000 4-3 OLB Rank: 33/46


    NFL1000 4-3 OLB scout Derrik Klassen

    Daryl Smith has hit the wall. Just a few years ago, he was one of the best linebackers in the league when he was with the Ravens. The Ravens saw Smith's physical decline on the horizon and decided to let him go. He ended up as a Buccaneer this season and, while he was not a complete bust, he was nowhere near the player he was just a short time ago.

    The issue for Smith was not the way he processed the field. On film, his intelligence and awareness is still evident. He can often be found stepping toward the play as soon as it can be deciphered, and he understands his assignments in coverage. However, he cannot move around like he used to.

    As a run defender, linemen continually beat Smith to the spot in 2016. He made his best efforts to arrive to plays on time, but more often than not, he was late. Of course, Smith's quick-twitch thinking allowed him to get ahead of slower offensive linemen, but he wasn't winning like he used to.

    Coverage was where Smith's decline really showed itself. He was never an outstanding run defender, though he was good one. His calling card was prowess in coverage and being able to roam large chunks of the field.

    Smith can't do that anymore. Players now beat him to the perimeter in the flats and burn past him down the seam. He still holds his own in basic zones where he has to read the quarterback, but he's not the presence he once was.

    It would be hard to blame a team for giving Smith another shot. He's still good enough to be a fourth linebacker, and his resume warrants as many chances as possible until he retires.


    Doug's Quick Take: What we said in the last slide about Father Time coming calling with reality checks also applies here. Smith's pure demon speed on the field is a memory for the most part, though you will see it once in a while. Accordingly, he'd be a great situational backup for a team like the Patriots, who cycle through veterans and are able to understand what a player can do at this point in his career.


    Potential Suitors: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots

4. Brandon Copeland

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 15.2/25
    Run Defense: 15.6/25
    Pass Rush: 7.2/15
    Tackling: 16.2/25
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 60.2/100
    2016 NFL1000 4-3 OLB Rank: 31/46


    NFL1000 4-3 OLB scout Derrik Klassen

    Although he was not a consistent starter for the Lions, Brandon Copeland played a healthy role. On occasion, he would roll down to the line of scrimmage and play on the edge, but he was normally a traditional linebacker.

    Copeland is somewhat of a run-defense specialist who the Lions favored in certain situations. He is not an exceptional run defender by any means, though. In fact, he is little more than average as a run defender and tackler, but there are plenty of teams that could use his type of talent as a fourth or fifth linebacker on their roster, especially considering Copeland isn't a complete coverage liability.

    Coverage is not Copeland's forte, but he can survive there in a way that allows his run defense to be valuable. He won't sprint to the flats or carry players down the seam particularly well, but he can sink into zones and patrol an area. There is value in a player who can do that without making egregious errors.

    Copeland won't be highly sought after—and he shouldn't be—but he does have a role in this league as a reliable backup. Defenses need to be able to call on a stable "next man up," and Copeland can be that guy. He's not going to transform a defense, but he can be a safety blanket.


    Doug's Quick Take: Copeland started the season in a weird spot: trying to make a switch to defensive end. That didn't take, and the 6'3", 260-pound 'backer stayed put as a backup. He's a pretty good blitzer and run-stopper, and teams will find that reasonably valuable in a low-budget Dont'a Hightower sense.


    Potential Suitors: Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders

3. Michael Morgan

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 15.4/25
    Run Defense: 16.5/25
    Pass Rush: 7.1/15
    Tackling: 16.8/25
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 61.8/100
    2016 NFL1000 4-3 OLB Rank: 27/46


    NFL1000 4-3 OLB scout Derrik Klassen

    As is often the case with Seahawks players, Michael Morgan is an athlete. He has the movement skills and strength to play either outside linebacker spot, though he mostly lined up on the strong side. In the Seahawks' 4-3 "Under" front, Morgan's strong-side linebacker position plays the alignment of a 3-4 outside linebacker but largely maintains the responsibilities of a typical strong-side 'backer.

    Morgan, though not always consistent, played relatively well in the run game as the strong-side linebacker. He was able to handle blocks at the line of scrimmage, which he was asked to do often, as well as stretch horizontally toward the boundary in order to funnel plays back inside. He was a functional player for the Seahawks and someone they could trust.

    That being said, Morgan does not have much ability as a third-down player despite how well he moves. Be it as a blitzer or as a coverage player, he looks oddly uncomfortable on passing downs. He appears unnatural as a pass-rusher and lacks a sense of awareness when dropping into space to defend the pass. If Morgan is asked to play a position similar to what he did in Seattle, he is a safe bet to be a quality two-down player.


    Doug's Quick Take: Morgan will get a lot of looks as an excellent special teamer and reserve linebacker. He's great in both of those areas, but if he's on your roster as a starter, it means somebody's probably injured. The Seahawks love him, so expect him back there if he doesn't get a shot at a starting role or the offers start to flatten out. He'd also work well in Atlanta's defensive scheme, and as much as the Falcons focus on special teamers, that'd be an ideal destination for him.


    Potential Suitors: Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Chargers

2. Josh Bynes

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 15.6/25
    Run Defense: 15.8/25
    Pass Rush: 7.4/15
    Tackling: 17.6/25
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 62.3/100
    2016 NFL1000 4-3 OLB Rank: 23/46


    NFL1000 4-3 OLB scout Derrik Klassen

    Josh Bynes is most valuable as a backup player. He is not bad, per se, but he falls a hair short of the quality of player that a team should want in its starting 11. Bynes has started 19 regular-season games for the Lions over the past two seasons, though that has more to do with the Lions’ lack of talent at linebacker than it has to do with what Bynes offers.

    Athleticism is not a tool for Bynes. He tested poorly prior to the 2011 NFL draft and has done little to prove that he is more athletic than his numbers suggest. On film, Bynes’ lack of athleticism shows up whenever he is forced to make plays to the perimeter or in space. Bynes is slow to get going, and his change of direction is clunky.

    Bynes is too often a tick late reacting to plays, which does not pair up well with his athleticism. His delayed reactions are a detriment when trying to make plays in space. He gets himself behind the eight ball early on in plays and tends to not be able to recover well. Bynes does make a few splash plays, though, primarily when shooting through gaps in the run game. He is more of a “point and shoot” type of linebacker than one who can be trusted to make reads and react on them.

    If possible, Bynes should be left off the field on passing downs. He is a functional blitzer, but he does not generate pressure consistently enough to make up for being a questionable coverage piece. There is little value in keeping him on the field for third downs.

    Bynes deserves a shot as a fourth or fifth linebacker. He does a fine job of controlling the box in the run game and is a sure-enough tackler when he gets to the ball-carrier. That being said, his lack of athleticism is a major concern and ultimately restricts him from being more than a reserve.


    Doug's Quick Take: Bynes had a pretty decent season for the Lions as a starter in 2015 after injuries decimated the team's starting rotation, and he's continued to be a valuable player in reserve duty. If he doesn't get any serious looks in free agency, expect the Lions to reward his consistency with a nice new contract. 


    Potential Suitors: Detroit Lions, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns

1. Keenan Robinson

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    Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Coverage: 16.4/25
    Run Defense: 17.1/25
    Pass Rush: 7.4/15
    Tackling: 17.7/25
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 64.6/100
    2016 NFL1000 4-3 OLB Rank: 16/46


    NFL1000 4-3 OLB scout Derrik Klassen

    The Giants’ linebacker corps was one of the weirdest to decipher. None of their consistent contributors were impact players, but they were not total liabilities, either. It was a smorgasbord of capable yet lackluster talents. Keenan Robinson, one of four Giants linebackers who had ample playing time, borders the line between being a starting quality player versus a highly valuable rotational player.

    Blitzing is not his forte, but Robinson’s athletic ability allows him to get pressure from time to time. For a linebacker whose game is predicated on sound run defense, Robinson's blitzing is a nice touch. 

    Robinson plays a brand of run defense that helps minimize runs, though he rarely makes stunning plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. Robinson gets to plays as they are happening or shortly after they’ve happened. He is not the type of linebacker to take many chances and, as a result, Robinson’s game has low variance. He avoids disastrous plays and does his part in keeping most plays to an average gain. That is not a special linebacker, but it is one that many teams around the league would be comfortable giving snaps to.

    In coverage, Robinson can hold his own, too. He’s not going to flow all over the field like a Sean Lee or DeAndre Levy, but Robinson does a fine job of playing his assignment. That is about all a defensive coordinator can ask of a linebacker, especially considering some of the route combos and unique receiver skill sets that these linebackers are faced with.

    Robinson makes sense as a stop-gap starter for a team either lacking linebacker talent or one that's OK pairing a relatively cheap player next to a star linebacker. He should not field a hefty contract, but there is a place for Robinson in the league as nothing less than a contributor.  


    Doug's Quick Take: Robinson is correctly valued as a second-tier all-around player. He's best as a straight-ahead run-stopper and blitzer, and he will flow decently into short coverage at times. He's athletic enough to play in nickel sets but would be best-served in a system where he's able to play in the box and not deviate from that plan too often.


    Potential Suitors: New York Giants, Detroit Lions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers


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